by Ben Koch
In my role as an enrichment specialist (one of many hats I wear as Co-Founder of NuMinds), I’m often called upon to help guide the mind of a brilliant but scattered student who just might solve the enigma of unified field theory, crank out a cure for cancer, or even crack the Beale Cipher by breakfast if only he could manage some of the basics of self-management and organization to extract some of that gold from a scattered, overwhelmed mind. Ironically, even with the power of 10 personal assistants at their fingertips, most digital natives have not even begun to tap the organizing power of smart technology in order to declutter their minds and open up space for creative productivity.
Instead, it seems us GenXers (OK, with some help from Millennials) who straddle the paper and digital ages have best learned to transfer the productivity tools of an earlier era into the reign of the smart phone. This is just a philosophical side note, but could it be that productivity apps are easier for paper natives to connect with because the analogs are meaningful? For example, the concept of the “To Do” list presupposes its paper and pencil forebearer. When you don’t have that concept to transfer into its digital equivalent, why WOULD it be intuitive? This is not a lamentation, just a recognition that new, more indigenous forms will emerge from the tech era.
But in the meantime…when I am coaching students in getting a grip on organization in order to increase productivity and performance, one of my first steps is to see what type of tech intervention from currently available apps might be effective and appropriate. Each of the apps below is a piece of the toolkit. Some stick and are life-changers, some just eat up precious megabytes that could be holding pics. Either way, they’re free, at your fingertips, and worth a try. The technical literacy of your child/student will determine how well each app will fly. Oh, and nothing is stopping YOU from taking it up a notch either. Yes, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. How could one guy possibly capture all the productivity apps in one blog post? My filter here is these are ALL apps I use personally and can confidently recommend to students in the appropriate circumstances. I strongly encourage other recommendations and insights in the comments. (For those REALLY wanting to crank up productivity, see the list of apps used by “4-Hour Work Week” author Tim Ferris.)
Wunderlist is a “To-Do” list on steroids! You can create multiple lists with sub-items, notes, attachments and due dates. Star priority items and set up notifications on your device on specific due dates. From a parenting point of view, lists can be SHARED and it’s easy to track the progress of tasks and projects.
Ever wish you had a vast, searchable, personal database? Evernote can do that. Create “notes” that document anything you need to save/remember: photos, links, files, and more. Then sort the notes into notebooks and tag them up with categories and labels. For students, this is an excellent way to organize notes and information across various classes and subjects.
Based on the philosophy that new habits are formed from “streaks,” Rewire allows you to create habits and track them day to day. Define goals by category and personalize to your weekly schedule, then start tracking.
A dream app for the super reader in your life. Create your own virtual bookshelf and start rating every book you read/have read. Based on your ratings, Goodreads will recommend other books you might enjoy. You can also connect with “friends” and follow loved authors, tag books on your “to read” list, and give/receive recommendations to/from friends. Never dip into existential depression again whilst browsing at the bookstore (is that just me?). Have your Goodreads app open and scan in those books to your future reading list.
A stunningly visual interface allows you to log mood based on some simple parameters, then focus in on an appropriate descriptor. Builds emotional intelligence by developing self-awareness and an emotional vocabulary.
I feel compelled to add a note of counterbalance here. Lest I give the impression that I believe “success” is a desperate search for shortcuts and lifehacks enabled by technology, I want to emphasize the importance of simple, long-term determination and the satisfaction that often comes from taking the long road. Nowhere is this better articulated than by ultra-athlete Rich Roll in his admonition to invest in the journey. But if a few apps at your fingertips can clear distractions from that long road, they just might be invaluable travel companions.